Friday, December 17, 2010

The Wuhan Ministry of Education Presents:

Every year at Christmas, the Wuhan Ministry of Education presents a gala show exclusively for the foreign teachers. That show was tonight, and what a show it was! I’m so excited about it still, that I had to sit down and tell you all about it.

First I have to tell you: I didn’t know anything about there being a show. It if hadn’t been for Carrie Ann inviting me, I would have spent the evening in my apartment, singing ‘Counting Flowers on the Wall’ (the Statler Brothers’ classic) and playing solitaire. You would think someone would have told me. Thank you, Carrie Ann!

The Maple Leaf School, staffed nearly exclusively with Canadian expats, had arranged for a bus so that everyone could ride together and not worry about having to take public transportation. Carrie Ann suggested we meet for dinner, and then I could ride the bus with them, an offer I gratefully accepted. The bus was due to leave her neighborhood at 5:40 PM; fortunately I made it there just in time to meet the group. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for dinner. That was no big deal; neither one of us were terribly hungry at that time anyway.

I wondered why the tour bus would leave so early if the show starts at 7:30. I soon found the answer: even in the swanky neighborhood most foreign teachers live in, traffic is horrendous! It took us nearly two hours to get to the concert hall.

While still stuck in traffic, nobody got mad or impatient, but everyone needed a bathroom. The school’s secretary, a lovely woman fluent in Chinese, asked the bus driver to pull over and several of the guys made a break for the public restroom. Carrie Ann decided: what’s good for the goose was good for the gander – or, in this case the reverse being true, and she also dashed off the bus! The rest of the women, me included, decided to wait until we reached the concert hall or until our back teeth started floating, whichever came first.

Have I told you before that Wuhan bus drivers are unusually skilled? They are all excellent drivers but sometimes need navigators. Our bus driver got lost on the way to the concert hall and in fact did a three-point U-turn – while talking on his cell phone, no less! - on a two lane road because he found out he was going in the wrong direction.

The bus driver is not to blame: the concert hall was tucked away behind a wall and was only accessible through a one-way, arched portal. Once inside he dropped us off and then took on the challenge of parking his bus. We made it in the door with just minutes to spare, found our seats and a moment or two later, the stage filled up with musicians clad in formal wear.

The evening started off with selections from Vivaldi and Bach –two of my favorites. From there the show only got better. It included some traditional Chinese elements, such as Beijing Opera and a traditional Chinese instrument ensemble, some dances performed by the Wuhan Academy of Dance, a saxophone solo beautifully rendered by the department head of the Wuhan Academy of Music. A lovely Chinese chanteuse sang her heart out while behind her small children danced in colorful costumes.

By far the most captivating act was the Chinese Acrobatics team. Two young men thrilled the audience by engaging in and holding impossible poses. At one point, one of them acrobats leaned backward until his knees were bent to a 90 degree angle. His feet were on the floor and the rest of his body was parallel to the floor. His partner uncurled himself from the first acrobat’s lap until just his head rested on those knees and the rest of his body was also parallel to the floor. The only connection the two men had was the head/knee connection and one firm grip with their right hands.

Their segment lasted 6 minutes and 34 seconds precisely. That is what my video camera reports… I did tape it. For what reason, I’m not sure. To be frank, I have to report that that segment was what all of us were talking about after the show was over and we were safely back on the bus.

Well, that and the fact that we were hungry.

After those thoroughly enjoyable 2 hours, the house lights came on and all of the performers posed for pictures. I share the best one with you.

While making my exit I looked around at all of the expats. There was an entire audience full! Where do they all work? How come, in all of my exploration of the city I’ve seen and met so few of them? I don’t have the answer to that one, but next weekend, a restaurant called Aloha’s will have a traditional Christmas dinner, I’ll be sure to meet more people there.

Although Carrie Ann is perfectly amenable to company and quite the accomplished hostess, it is not fair of me to burden her exclusively with my social needs. Meeting other people would probably be one way to resolve that problem. Regardless, I do enjoy her company and thank her for sharing this superb night out with me.

A footnote: as the bus pulled out of the concert hall enclave I felt a glimmer of familiarity, looking out the bus window. Within 5 minutes I realized we were just down the road from Shelin’s house (the student I tutored for the IELTS test, whose parents took me out for a sumptuous dinner as a thank you for helping their daughter). I was just a few kilometers from home! Rather than ride this chartered bus all the way back to Carrie Ann’s house and then having to take a taxi back to my campus, I asked if it would offend anyone if I got off the bus at the train station. No one minded and I was able to catch the last bus back home. I snagged a roasted chicken at the restaurant that was still open, thus taking care of the dinner my stomach was clamoring for.

It was as though it were meant to be!

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